If you invested $100,000 in the S&P500 stock index on January 1, 2010, reinvested the dividends and looked at your balance on New Year’s Day a few weeks ago it would be having been worth about $352,000.
If you had been charged a 1% fee advisory on that investment it would have been worth $319,000…. essentially $33,000 of fee impact.
You can move the decimal left or right to fit the amount of your investable assets, either way it’s roughly a 13% per year return on your money or 12% with a 1% fee. How do your investments compare?
It was one of the best decades on record. Last year the S&P500 was up about 32%, the same as 2013, with double digit gains a few other years and only one year at a slight loss.
Great decades come and go, so do great years, but the history of the stock market is an upward trend. Buying now at the all-time high will probably be good idea 10 to 20 years from now. Whether buying now will be favorable in 5 years from now is anyone’s guess.
I’d like to focus on the subtleties of my initial example as a strategy for the next decade.
There are plenty of fund managers, investment advisers, indexes and certainly stocks who have performed better than the example I gave. But the question is how many investors enjoyed that performance. Trying to time the market, changing advisors, risk management or trying to beat the index usually leaves us somewhere behind.
Whether you like indexes or not, the way I see that group of 500 companies is that they have their fingers in every pot. They invest in or buy startups; they can afford to hire the best people and their business spans the globe. By owning this group, you may miss early stage growth of a newly listed startup, but it’ll likely end up being part of the index if its growth is sustainable. You’ll also certainly own the best performers in any given 10-year period.
There are also plenty of other indices that may outperform the S&P500 over any given time especially the last 10 years. Like the NASDAQ index which is known to be tech heavy. Some may argue that tech is here to stay implying it isn’t as risky buying the NASDAQ or the Exchange traded fund QQQ which tracks the NASDAQ’s top 100 stocks. This may be so, but the S&P500 includes the top tech companies plus companies who bring the bricks and mortar, food and clothing, transport and medicine to our lives. So, in a way investing the top US companies in itself is a way of managing risk.
But I digress which is very easy to do when talking about investment in the stock market. Back to my example and fees. Be sure to look back on the fees you paid over the last years in terms of total dollars. For those of you who were charged an advisory fee did you get good value from your adviser for the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousand dollars your portfolio may not have made because of fees?
I’m using the S&P500 here as a proverbial benchmark, and it just happens to be a great investment option which is easy to choose, buy, be satisfied with and it’s cheap. It’s a benchmark for performance as much as a benchmark for simplicity and cost.
Much of complexity of the financial services industry is not to make us investors more money, nor to manage risk. It’s to help us manage our emotions through the process of building wealth. Insurance products and annuities offer guarantees but come at a huge cost in the end. Diversification makes sure we don’t miss out and is supposed to reduce big swings in our account balance, and fixed income stops just short of guaranteeing that when the market crashes it will be bearable to look at our account balance. Many products that have withdrawal penalties are simply just ways to protect us from spending urges.
Of course, tax awareness and income producing products are necessary especially for bigger accounts but be clear on what it all adds up to down the road and at what cost.
The strategy for the next 10 years is mindfulness. Even if you hire someone to invest for you, the act of choosing that person will be far more relevant to your prosperity then the investments they choose on your behalf. The buck stops with you, you are the smartest investment adviser for your money, no matter what your investment experience.
Be mindful of the impact of fees and what you are getting in return. Take the time to understand investment choices by looking past the sales pitch. Be mindful of your time horizon and don’t try to micromanage short term returns. Understand what risk really means to you in the end.
And as John Lennon would say, in the end everything will be ok. If it’s not ok it’s not the end